Glia River Internment Camp
Butte, Arizona

Baseball During the Internment


Kenichi Zenimura's passion and expertise in the game were outstanding, but his vision and leadership during the hysteria and xenophobic times of the relocation and resettlement of Japanese Americans were equally notable. World War II hysteria brought 5,000 internees to the animal stalls at the Fresno Fairgrounds. Within weeks, a baseball stadium was constructed under Zenimura's supervision. Six months later, his family was moved to the desert wastelands of Gila River, Arizona. Once again, this field general began designing, organizing and constructing Zenimura Stadium. Amid the desert wasteland and desolate vastness of sand and sagebrush rose a masterpiece field of dreams (which still stands today on a Hopi Indian reservation). When completed, this stadium had cement dugouts, bleachers, a grass infield, and an outfield fence complete with castor beans similar to Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Padding for cushions came out of mattress ticking and bases were made out of wood. Funding for most expenses incurred by the Nisei baseball team came from the community. The best bleacher seats were purchased at premium prices. Money was raised by passing the hat after games, from raffles and from donations by the "B.B.C." (BaseBall Crazy) Issei, who were known to engage in the practice of betting on ball games. The Issei funded bus trips from Gila River to play camp teams in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and also in Poston and Jerome, Arkansas. Baseball during internment transformed these so-called "enemy aliens" into traveling goodwill ambassadors.

The passion for baseball can be seen in the fact that Gila River, as one of 10 internment camps during World War II, had three divisions and 28 teams. The involvement of parents, family and friends is illustrated by the number of people who watched the games. It is said that at the "A" division games in Gila River, sometimes would stretch all around the field with 4,000 to 5,000 people watching and cheering on the team. Zenimura was known to have purchased more than $2,000 in equipment and uniforms.

For Japanese Americans interned during World War II, playing, watching and supporting baseball behind barbed wire brought a sense of normalcy, created a social and positive atmosphere, encouraged physical conditioning, and maintained self-esteem despite the harsh conditions of desert life and unconstitutional incarceration. The civic pride and dignity which was fostered within many communities who had organized teams helped the Issei and Nisei survive this ordeal. Internees young and old demonstrated that talent transcends prejudice and extinguishes the demonizing of Asian immigrants. The Nisei baseball organization, through its positive identity and image, helped nurse the deep wounds of the barbed wire. George Omachi said, "The baseball experience was one of those elements that allowed me to develop as a person and an individual, plus it gave me opportunities ."

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